Develop a Plan of Action for Showing:
Learn strategies for dressage show preparation, such as knowing the
directives and coefficients of the test and highlighting your horse's
By Jessie Steiner
One of the aspects I like best about showing dressage is that you get to demonstrate the
connection you have between you and your horse. When you watch someone put in a great test, it
looks effortless, as if horse and rider are one. The movements flow into one another for a seamless
performance. I use several strategies to help me attain a precise and accurate test.
Before heading off to a show, study the directive ideas for the tests that you will be showing. These
will help give you an idea of what the judge is looking for and let you know how the judges would
like to see your horse presented. For example, in the trot lengthening at First Level, the directive
ideas are lengthening of the frame and stride, regularity of trot, balance and straightness and
transitions. So when you are schooling this movement at home, make sure your horse is really
lengthening throughout his body and not just going faster and flinging his legs. Pay attention to the
steps before and after the lengthening itself since these count as the transitions into and out of the
It's important to know where your coefficient scores are, so you can focus on those movements.
When practicing at home, really work on your transitions from the collected walk to extended walk
back to collected walk. The extended walk is always a coefficient. If your horse gets tense in
extended walk, try leg yielding him from one leg to the other--just a stride or two in leg yield one
way and then back the other way. This will encourage your horse to reach into your hands and
seek the contact while still remaining active with his hind legs.
Know your horse's strengths and weaknesses within the movements, and how many points are
possible for each. Let's say your horse is a bit weak in his medium canter but is very precise in his
simple changes. Focus on making your simple changes clear and accurate so you can get the
maximum points for this movement and give yourself a little wiggle room if your medium canter
doesn't go as well as you'd hoped. If your horse has a mistake in a movement, know where your
next "highlight" movement is and really go for it to make up for the points you may have lost. I keep
a running tally going in my head so I always know where I can pick up points when needed.
Also, don't forget the importance of corners. Corners are a great place to make a small correction
that can make a big difference. You can bend your horse through the corner if he's getting stiff or
give him a half halt to rebalance him. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before your next
movement. Tests that flow beautifully are those that are ridden every step and not just from
movement to movement. The quality of the preparation before a movement will determine the
quality of the movement itself.
It's inevitable at some point in our show careers to go off course. If you know your test, hopefully
you can quickly figure out where you are and get yourself back on course without disturbing the
flow of your test too much. Familiarize yourself with the flow of your test and how and where the
movements are scored. Then, if something goes wrong, you will only lose points for the movement
with the mistake and not for the next three movements. For example, I had a horse that put in a
change before C after his canter pirouette in the Prix St. Georges (I was supposed to remain in
counter canter until C). The judge rang me off course. This gave me the opportunity to do the
pirouette again. As a result, I had the chance to get the flying change in at C instead of getting a
zero for not doing the change.
It sounds simple, but never forget to relax and have fun while riding your test. I try to take a deep
breath and look around a bit once the test is underway. Take a moment to connect with your horse
and give him a scratch on the neck when you're halting at X. A good rule of thumb is to show a level
below what you are schooling at home. This way you will feel confident that you and your horse can
perform all the movements easily. Enjoy the experience of showing off your horse. Dressage shows
are a great way to check the progress of your training so show off all that hard work you've been
doing, smile and have fun!
Jessie Steiner has been riding dressage all of her life with her mother, FEI rider/trainer Betsy Steiner. A U.S.
Dressage Federation bronze and silver medalist, Jessie won a team bronze dressage medal at the North
American Young Riders' Championships in 1992. She has trained and competed successfully through the
FEI-levels. For over 12 years Jessie has served as assistant trainer for Team Steiner.
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